anonymous tech woman

Yet another woman in technology blog. I'm actually a developer who uses a variety of Java and database technologies on a variety of platforms.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Open Office - A review I wrote on another site

What is it?
An office suite which includes a word processor, database, vector drawing tool, spreadsheet, presentation tool and mathematical function creator. Commonly when most people think of office suite they think of Microsoft Office and it's associated products i.e. Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access.

Why use it?
It is an office suite which is free to use under the GNU Lesser General Public Licence. This means that you don't have to pay anyone any money for the privileged of using it unlike other office suites such as Microsoft Office.

If you are a developer/programmer and want to change any code then you are free to download it and change it but must publish this code openly if you are going to distribute your changes. You are allowed to sell you changes but have a look at OpenOffice for how you must do this.

The other advantage of Open Office is that it is available to use in at least 45 languages. I know from working abroad that most commercial Office Suite providers don't generally think it's viable to produce Office Suites in any language that is not widely used by a large population they can make money out off e.g. Welsh and this annoys some users.

It states it is compatible with all other major Office Suites such as Microsoft Office.

How do you get it?
Either on a Linux distribution, downloading it via OpenOffice (OOo), via Peer-to-Peer Network i.e. bittorrent, from a friend or on the cover disc of a PC magazine. The distribution is available to use on most operating systems including Windows XP, Linux distributions and Mac OS X. However not all languages are available for all distributions.

Brief History
StarDivision, the original author of StarOffice, was founded in Germany in the 1980s. It was acquired by Sun Microsystems during 1999 and StarOffice 5.2 was released in 2000. In 2000 Sun Microsystems founded the Open Office Community to produce an Open Source Office Suite, Open Office, and to use the basis of this code in their own future releases of StarOffice.

After downloading the latest stable version, 2.0.2 from on my Windows XP machine. I just clicked on the installer and followed the instructions to install. The download is about 12MB so if you don't have broadband connection it's best to get the suite another way.

On my Linux machine (Suse) I just chose OOo as a package and installed it via the package manager with other packages I was installing.

Using the Programs
I have only looked at the programs and features I regualarly use such as a Spreadsheet, Word Processor and Presentation tool plus help and templates.

1. Spreadsheet - OpenOffice Calc
I selected this from the start menu and use it to modify an existing Excel XP spreadsheet. Opening this spreadsheet up for the first time was slow due to Open Office asking me to register (, which I refused,) and accept a licensing agreement (, which I accepted, )but once this was successfully done, reopening up this or any worksheet was quick. The spreadsheet opened up correctly, was editable and I was able to save it in Windows XP .xls format.

I should add I rarely generate my own spreadsheets as any large data I have I put create and put in a database.

2. Word processor- Open Office Write
I know from playing around with this word processor before that one advantage that it has over other office suites is that you can generate PDF files at the push of a button.

Opening existing Microsoft Word documents is not a problem, however if you save a document a document as a Word document which you have generated in OO you may have some different formatting if you then open it in Microsoft Word. This is easily overcome by sending documents that don't need to be edited as PDF files as PDF readers are free, and it prevents people editing your documents.

Open Office Write is very similar to Microsoft Word which means it has a dictionary, spell-check, auto-completes some words, has wizards and allows you to insert tables and images into text documents. The application also allows you to save files as HTML, in other proprietary formats and as XML.

3. Presentation- OpenOffice Impress
I open an existing Powerpoint presentation and viewed the slides. Impress open very quickly and with no difficulty and the slides were in the same format as with Powerpoint.

Impress only has two template types for creating presentations and 2 background types. However there are 18 layouts included by default.

4. Help
Help can be selected from the main menu in any of these applications and it throws up a Help Window releveant to the application being used. Help can also be obtained by going to the OOo website and going to the support section. There you will find links to mailing lists, free online tutorials and books.

5. Templates
More templates for Writer and Calc can be found by following the links to the ooextras site found by going to the OOo support page. All these templates are free.

Major Advantages:
1. No stupid dog or paper-clip that springs up when you typing in an attempt to "help" you write that letter.
2. Free to use
3. You can generate PDF files freely from the Write, Impress and Calc programs without paying £50 for the cheapest equivalent software

Major Disadvantages:
1. Macros - VBA is a proprietary Microsoft language and if you use macros you would have difficultly conventing to use OOo However for the majority of home users this is not a problem. Also if you use an operating system that doesn't support VBA then you can't use VBA macros anyway.
2. Database - OOo now has it's own embedded database HSQLDB with a front end that allows people who know nothing about databases to create one. However if you have lots of Access files it is apparently extremely difficult to convert macros, queries and reports to OOo format.

Other potential Advantages:
1. Range of languages that are supported.
2. Range of operating systems that are supported i.e. if you ever end up using a different operating system then you can always use the same Office Suite.
3. Not having an integrated email client. This is not a problem as this allows you to use any email client you want.
4. Can recover corrupt Microsoft Word files.

Other potential Disadvantages:
1. Speed some people state that Open Office is slow but I find this depends on your hardware, operating system and whether you install the version with the bundled Java Runtime Environment. If you have old hardware then most programs are slow but I found no problems on my Windows XP machines. I'm aware from playing around with it that old editions of OOo were slow but not any more. Once you have got past the registeration step, the current version opens up quickly in Windows XP however running on Linux is slower.
2. Conversion of documents from other Office Suites formats may be a problem but this is due to commercial software producers keeping their formats closed.
3. Not having an integrated email client. Open Office allows you to include documents created as attachments in any email client you have set up on your machine.
4. The fact that Open Office uses Java which is not open source. This is being overcome by the creation of an open source version of Java.

OpenOffice has really improved as an Office Suite in this latest release and is a viable alternative to the major commercial office suites for a lot of users particularly home users. Some users will not be able to convert easily to using this Office Suite due to having too many old files in a proprietary format which will take a long time to convert.


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